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The Juniors back together

By wire services
Published September 15, 2005

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be reunited with crew chief Tony Eury Jr. beginning with this week's event in New Hampshire, a team official said Wednesday.

The duo will finish the season together to get a head start on 2006. Earnhardt failed to make the Chase for the Nextel Cup title, so he can use the final 10 races of this year to experiment.

"We just wanted to get geared up for next season," Richie Gilmore, vice president of Dale Earnhardt Inc., said. "This gives them a chance to start working on their chemistry. With both of our cars out of the Chase, the time was right to move forward."

Eury worked under his father on Earnhardt's car from the beginning of Earnhardt's NASCAR career. The Eurys led him to the Busch Series title in 1998 and '99 and went with him to the Cup series in 2000, where they won 15 races, including five last season and the Daytona 500.

But team owner Teresa Earnhardt made a wholesale swap of crews during the winter, moving Eury Sr. into a management role while making Eury Jr. crew chief for Michael Waltrip.

The swap was necessary because the relationship between Earnhardt and Eury Jr., who are also cousins, had deteriorated to the point they were hardly speaking at the end of last season.

Earnhardt struggled after the switch, fired his new crew chief in May and has been working under DEI's longtime technical director Steve Hmiel since.

It helped at first; Earnhardt won at Chicago in July, but he failed to make NASCAR's postseason. Waltrip is also out of the Chase and is leaving DEI at the end of the season, so Gilmore said the time was right to move forward.

He also said the swapping of crews was not a mistake.

"As a company, we learned a lot from it," Gilmore said. "Dale Jr. and Tony Jr. had not worked together before in this capacity, Tony Jr. was never his crew chief, so it enabled him to get some experience working with someone else. The time apart also helped their relationship."

Earnhardt has admitted that separating the two was the only way to save their personal relationship.

"We didn't change the teams because of a performance issue. We changed it because of an attitude issue between me and Tony Jr.," he said. "We changed it, maybe not for the right reasons, but the change did what it was supposed to it. It fixed his attitude and it fixed my attitude."

Gordon loses crew chief

Robbie Loomis stepped down as Jeff Gordon's crew chief four days after the team failed to make NASCAR's Chase for the Championship.

Loomis will finish the season as consultant for Hendrick Motorsports while Jimmie Johnson races for the Nextel Cup title. He will join Petty Enterprises next season as vice president of race operations, where he will run the day-to-day operations for Jeff Green's and Kyle Petty's teams.

Steve Letarte, who has been with Gordon's team for three NASCAR titles, will take over for Loomis as crew chief.

"I'm sad to see Robbie leave," Gordon said. "We made a great team and had more wins ahead of us, but the Pettys presented him with a fantastic opportunity. For him, it was time for a change and I'm happy he's found the right fit."

Loomis joined Gordon's team in 2000, and the duo won Gordon's fourth Cup title the next season. Although Gordon has won three races this season, he hit a slump this summer and failed to qualify for NASCAR's 10-race title hunt.

Gordon is assured his worst points finish since his rookie season, when he was 14th.

Letarte will call his first race Sunday at New Hampshire International Speedway. He has worked under crew chiefs Ray Evernham, Brian Whitesell and Loomis in roles including tire specialist, mechanic and car chief.

"I've worked with Steve for more than 10 years and we already communicate extremely well, both on and off the track," Gordon said.

FIAT'S RETURN: Fiat SpA, Italy's biggest manufacturer, will return to the world rally championship in 2008 25 years after quitting it, and it may have motorcycle world champion Valentino Rossi behind the wheel, Fiat chairman Luca Cordero di Montezemolo said.

The Grande Punto, Fiat's latest model, will debut in the Super 2000 rally championship in 2006 with two foreign drivers. The company will use a version called the Punto Abarth Rally for the races.

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